NIDA Director: Ensuring Drug Policy is Grounded in Science

A profile of National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director, Dr. Nora Volkow, in The New York Times, says her mission is to ensure that the nation’s drug policy, which is increasingly focused on prescription drugs, is grounded in science.

Dr. Volkow oversees a $1.09 billion budget for an agency that is dealing with skyrocketing rates of prescription drug abuse. Hospitalizations from prescription drugs have jumped fivefold in the last decade, while overdose deaths have risen fourfold, the article notes. Dr. Volkow says that prescription drugs are especially challenging because they are needed for patients in pain, yet are the cause of so many cases of substance abuse.

Dr. Volkow says she is in favor of a planned merger between NIDA and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, according to the newspaper. She said that addictions share many triggers and much biology, and tend to move together.

An expert in the brain chemical dopamine, Dr. Volkow has conducted research that has helped explain how addiction causes changes in brain function. Don C. Des Jarlais, who directs the Baron Edmond de Rothschild Chemical Dependency Institute at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York, told the newspaper that Dr. Volkow “is as responsible as anyone for showing that addiction really does cause changes in brain function. Her work is a primary basis for considering it a disease, rather than poor choices or immoral behavior.”

Dr. Volkow recently wrote, “On a personal level, as a physician I have never met an addicted person who chose to be addicted or who expected that this compulsive, uncontrollable behavior would emerge when they started taking drugs. Like any other medical disorder that impairs the function of vital organs, repair and recovery of the addicted brain depends on targeted and effective treatments that must address the complexity of the disease. Research is the cornerstone in proving how this can be done.”

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    June 16, 2011 at 1:08 PM

    There are different reasons to call it disease, there are also different agenda. Medical professional call it disease to treat medical complications associated with acute or chronic poisoning caused by some addictive substances. 12 steps called disease to extract the personal responsibilities (behavioral component or choice) from the etiology of this medical condition.

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    June 15, 2011 at 11:53 AM

    the fact that “this compulsive, uncontrollable behavior would emerge when they started taking drugs” is pretty much common knowledge. (if you doubt this, go ask a 5 year old what happens when you take drugs and see if you don’t get an answer very similar to this statement) choosing to take an addictive substance is the same as choosing to become addicted. the choice to take any addictive drug for the first time is always made by someone who is not addicted. call it a disease and treat it like a disease, but you can’t seperate out the element of choice from addiction without losing all credibility.

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    June 14, 2011 at 3:18 PM

    If you discover the cure for addiction the societal problems from substance abuse will barely drop, if at all. If you make broad policy and environmeantal changes around alcohol societal problems from alcohol could drop substantially.

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